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Film Review: The Highwaymen (2019)

The Highwaymen

Adam reviews The Highwaymen, the other side of the Bonnie & Clyde story told from the Lawmen who hunted them.

John Lee Hancock’s The Highwaymenstarring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson tells the story of Bonnie and Clyde by the officers that hunted them. The film is more procedural and less action film or Social commentary.

You know the story of Bonnie and Clyde. Countless films and television properties have told of the legendary folk-heroes with a sexy zeal of youth on the run. The Highwaymen tells the story of the violent repercussions of reckless youth on the run, and of the authority figures left to hunt them down. Ex-Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Costner) is hired to hunt the young lovers and their gang down. Hamer brings in his old partner Maney Gault (Harrelson) in to help him. As the FBI and other law enforcement agencies attempt to track down the outlaws, the two old vets approach their tracking with a very “dog will hunt” Texas attitude. The inevitable “bushwhacking” does happen but it is all about the lead up into that moment, and not that moment.

Hancock and screenwriter John Fusco have crafted a story and film that subtracts, purposely, Bonnie and Clyde out of the main plot. What this does is create a film that is heavy on procedural and light on the “Robin Hood” aspects of myth-making. In fact, The Highwaymen is refreshingly free of myth-making or eulogizing criminals or cops for that matter. Crimes when briefly shown are designed to be horrifying. There are not the cliched moments of Hardboiled-ness or are kept to a minimum.  Rather the filmmakers allow the actors to inhabit the roles.

If one was to describe the work by both Costner and Harrelson on it would be laconic. The actors make a great team playing off one another as if trying to see who can out “Gary Cooper” one another. Of course, the answer is Costner. Harrelson’s irascible charm can only be subdued for so long before it naturally comes out. Costner has finally found a director in Hancock that understands how to use the actor’s specific gifts to maximum effect. The results are a performance from Costner that is more alive than we have seen him in a long while.

The Highwaymen ultimately is an interesting procedural by way of a period piece. Light on action but heavy on “Acting” gives this what could have been a by the number’s gangster pic a unique spin. Less for the genre fans and more for the dramaturgy set.

The Highwaymen is in limited theatrical release now and on Netflix March 29th

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